A review of the best and worst performances by the Washington Redskins’ offense and some observations after re-watching the TV broadcast of their 34-27 loss to the New England Patriots.
RB ROY HELU: The Redskins will enter the offseason in three weeks with a long list of needs on offense. That’s obvious. After his third straight 100-yard game, an important question is whether Helu has changed coach Mike Shanahan’s thinking about the magnitude of the need at running back. Would Shanahan be content to go with Helu as a featured back and devote the Redskins’ resources to acquiring a top quarterback prospect, improving the line and getting a receiver or two?
Shanahan had success in Denver with different backs. However, coaches and former players distinguish between Terrell Davis’ ability and others’ (Olandis Gary and Mike Anderson). When Gary and Anderson ran for 1,200 and 1,500 yards, respectively, Davis would have had at least 500 more, they say, because of his ability to diagnose cutback lanes, his feel for creating them himself, his patience and his speed. Helu is closer to the Gary/Anderson/others category than Davis or Houston’s Arian Foster. Is Shanahan OK with that considering how many other needs he has on offense?
One can’t help but wonder what Helu could do behind a better offensive line. The blocking for him was wildly inconsistent against New England, but he still had 126 yards. He made defenders miss with his quick feet and speed, and he gained 51 yards after contact on 27 carries. CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf during the broadcast emphasized Helu’s impressive lateral quickness, and it’s worth mentioning again. There were times when he had to cut two or more yards behind the line of scrimmage because the blocking broke down in front of him, but Helu adjusted with his feet, kept his shoulders squared to the line of scrimmage and didn’t lose speed or power.
His speed to the edge and around the corner resulted in several big runs. There were times when he had to bow his path around a tackle that had been pushed back, but he still made it work. Helu whiffed on a blitz pickup on the Redskins’ first play from scrimmage, but he was better after that. Overall, it was another promising game for the rookie. Regardless of how Shanahan and the organization evaluate the running back position entering the offseason, Helu has established himself as a contributor.
WR DONTÉ STALLWORTH: It’s a bit baffling that the Redskins released Stallworth last month considering the big plays he’s made for them since returning. On Sunday, he helped the Redskins match their season-high of 50 percent third-down efficiency (7-of-14) by converting three of them. A big part of being a reliable third-down option is running quality routes against defenses expecting the pass. Stallworth did that.
On his 51-yard catch on third-and-9 in the first quarter, he released inside CB Devin McCourty to get in position for the deep ball. Later in that drive, Stallworth converted third-and-7 using a whip route on which he put McCourty on his back by selling his route to the right flat and pivoting quickly back to the inside. On third-and-9 on the Redskins’ last drive, Stallworth ran a crisp 'in' cut, holding McCourty at the top of the break so he could separate to the inside. Those are little things that result in impactful plays.
WR JABAR GAFFNEY: Gaffney seems to have a knack for finding holes in zone coverage. There were plays on which he got wide open simply by taking what the soft New England coverage gave him. He also benefited from some of the play-action passes on which the linebackers lost depth by biting on the run fake.
On Gaffney’s touchdown catch, the Redskins took advantage of a blown coverage and a successful play-action fake. When S James Ihedigbo came up to stop the run, Gaffney ran away from CB Devin McCourty by selling the post and then breaking back out to the corner. The Redskins sent only three receivers out on that play against seven defenders in coverage, but they won because of play-action. That’s what a successful running game and quality play design will do for an offense.
LG MAURICE HURT: It’s pretty much a broken record at this point with Hurt. He’s in there out of necessity. The Redskins have to hope he gets leaner in the offseason, which should improve his strength and quickness in case he’s needed again in a backup role. He was inconsistent finishing his blocks. He can be slow getting off the first assignment in a combination block and late redirecting to a linebacker. On the first play of the game, an inside linebacker blitzed past him untouched when Hurt blocked down, and QB Rex Grossman took a hit. Hurt also was penalized twice for holding.
It wasn’t all bad, though. He cut down DL Kyle Love on the backside of RB Roy Helu’s 16-yard run around the right side in the first quarter. On Helu’s 26-yard run around the left end later in the quarter, he sustained his block against LB Dane Fletcher long enough for Helu to turn the corner two steps ahead of Fletcher.
LT WILLIE SMITH: Smith secured his place on this list by giving up the sack-fumble-touchdown on his third NFL play. For his regular-season debut, though, he wasn’t too bad.
Smith in the preseason had a habit of bending at the waist and leaning into pass blocks. That’s exactly what happened on the disastrous first-quarter play. Veteran DE Andre Carter broke him down by ripping under him and getting to Smith’s outside shoulder. QB Rex Grossman held the ball for 3.1 seconds on that play, which he admitted Wednesday is too long when standing in your own end zone, but Smith’s poor technique created that turnover.
Carter got a clean hit on Grossman on a similar play late in the third quarter. Smith bent at the waist and was off balance on a third-down pass. The key now is whether Smith improves on the mistakes over the final three games.
Smith had several positive plays, though, on which to build. On WR Jabar Gaffney’s touchdown, for example, Grossman took 2.6 seconds to get rid of the ball. Smith moved his feet well enough to keep Carter wide, and when Carter tried to change directions, Smith threw him to the ground.
RG CHRIS CHESTER: The Redskins called more inside runs than usual against New England, and the power game isn’t Chester’s strong suit, as we heard from Redskins coaches after they signed him from Baltimore. His athleticism is one of his best assets, and that was not exploited as often as when the Redskins run more outside zone plays.
Chester has been reliable, if not solid, in his debut season, but NT Vince Wilfork pushed him around too often. Wilfork is enormous (he’s listed at 6-foot-2, 325), so he’s understandably difficult to control, but it was problematic on some runs. For example, on second-and-goal from the 5 in the third quarter, Wilfork drove Chester 2 yards back with a fierce punch, and then slid inside to stop the play for a loss of 1. Chester fell to the ground while blocking Wilfork on first-and-goal from the 2 in the first quarter, enabling Wilfork to make the stop.
Earlier on that series, ILB Dane Fletcher tackled RB Roy Helu on a 4-yard gain by getting past Chester on an aggressive run fit. Chester didn’t react in time to square up and block him.
QB Rex Grossman’s arm was one reason the Redskins had a chance to win at the end, but his mistake on the first-quarter sack-fumble-touchdown kept him off the game balls list. On third-and-9 from his own 5, Grossman stood in the end zone and went through his progressions. At 3.1 seconds after the snap, he still was holding the ball — behind an offensive line comprised of two rookies and three backups.
Grossman acknowledged his error Wednesday. "In that situation with where we were and the timing of everything, I just need to throw it away," he said. "Not go to No. 2, just go to No. 1 and just get rid of it and punt. Live to play another series.”
Grossman also was bailed out of an interception by a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty against DE Andre Carter. He was off balance when he floated a pass toward the sideline; it had little chance of being caught by the intended receiver.
But Rex did well exploiting the Patriots' defense on play-action passes. Their linebackers and safeties repeatedly moved toward the line of scrimmage on play fakes, creating open space into which Grossman dropped throws. He also made a great throw on a sprint-out to the right to hit WR David Anderson for a touchdown on third-and-goal from the 6 in the third quarter. His perfectly-placed 51-yard deep ball to WR Donté Stallworth on third down in the first quarter got the offense rolling.
Grossman dropped back to pass 40 times. The Patriots rushed three defenders seven times; four defenders 16 times; five defenders nine times and six defenders twice.
Against three rushers, Grossman was 5-of-6 passing for 53 yards, one interception and one sack; a passer rating of 63.9.
Against four, Grossman was 7-of-15 for 93 yards, one touchdown, one sack; a rating of 89.0.
Against five, Grossman was 5-of-9 for 82 yards; a rating of 86.3.
Against six, Grossman was 2-of-2 for 24 yards and a touchdown; a rating of 156.3.
WR Santana Moss was another one whose up-and-down game kept him off either list.
The good: how he adjusted to WR Brandon Banks’ underthrown pass on the trick play. Moss is exceptional at adjusting to passes while they’re in the air, and he scored a touchdown because he came back and caught this one. He also spun out of a tackle to get to the end zone.
The bad: He sabotaged the Redskins’ final drive by committing offensive pass interference. Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez got away with a similar push-off against CB Kevin Barnes earlier in the game, and New England’s cornerbacks used their hands often, so I understand Moss’ frustration that he was flagged. But he did extend his arm and push off. That’s PI.
Also, Moss dropped the final pass, which resulted in an interception. Moss admitted he blew it; not much to add there.
FB Darrel Young and TE Logan Paulsen had mixed success in prominent blocking roles. Young, to me, didn’t seem like himself coming off his concussion. He wasn’t as fast getting to blocks and he wasn’t as forceful executing them. He was very hard on himself after the game, probably too critical. He did execute several blocks well, especially as the game went on. He led up the middle on RB Evan Royster’s 14-yard gain on the final drive, for example.
Paulsen continues to be inconsistent with his hand placement. He has emphasized the importance of hand technique all season, but it still betrays him at times. He sustained his blocks on the edge on RB Roy Helu’s big runs around the corner, but he also was pushed back on occasion.
Paulsen didn’t catch a pass. In fact, it was the first time in 131 games the Redskins did not have a reception by a tight end. The last time that happened was in a 20-7 win over the New York Giants on Dec. 7, 2003 — the game in which Bruce Smith set the all-time sack record.
RB Evan Royster flashed on six carries, which qualifies as an expanded role. He said Wednesday that he gets better as he gets more chances because his body loosens up and he develops a feel for cutback lanes. He was much more decisive hitting the hole — perhaps that’s because he often ran inside. He did have a 15-yarder around the left edge, though. Royster also slipped twice — once on a run and once on a screen pass.
RT Tyler Polumbus was serviceable in his spot start. The Redskins had more success running around the left edge, and Polumbus wasn’t tested as much as LT Willie Smith was on the other side. Polumbus didn’t surrender a sack, which qualifies as a significant success.
Three New England penalties helped keep the Redskins in the game.
1. CB Devin McCourty committed pass interference against WR Jabar Gaffney on a slant on third-and-18 in the first quarter. Just dumb. That extended the drive that resulted in the Redskins' first touchdown.
2. DE Andre Carter’s questionable roughing-the-passer penalty negated CB Devin McCourty’s interception in the second quarter. The Redskins went on to kick a field goal.
3. NT Vince Wilfork was flagged for unnecessary roughness for drilling RB Evan Royster, who had slipped 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage on a screen pass. Another dumb penalty. That turned third-and-14 at the New England 33 into first-and-10 from the 18. The Redskins finished that drive with a touchdown.
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